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  • Writer's pictureClaire

02/03/24 Serenity Island

This morning we met Mel and John in the reception and they took us around the other side of the island for some snorkelling. There is a wooden boardwalk that circumnavigates the island and then a well worn track that cuts through the jungle to the beach. This side of the island has is a beach of pure white sand and again, the clearest water we’ve seen. As it’s surrounded by  a Coral reef, the tide has washed up broken bits of coral and shells that can be a little sharp on the old tootsies.  Once over them, the sand is still coarse but is no problem to walk on.  


Mel and John have snorkelled this side of the Island every day since they arrived, and they are mesmerised by it. They are from Sydney and are big on snorkelling and water sports in general. Si and I borrowed some snorkelling gear again, and we both resembled Darth Vader, but despite looking like an utter tool, I freely admit to loving that style of mask. It’s very open, and also you just breath normally into it, I think there must be a valve of some description in the snout stopping the water going down it. With this contraption on my mush, and an identical one on Si’s we set off. I wasn’t sure how far I’d be able to go, but for whatever reason (probably entirely psychological) the darth Vader mask meant I could breathe freely and not get half drowned by a sneaky little wave that threatened to wash over me. It also meant I could keep my face in the water which meant no pressure in my neck. As a result of not having to stop, empty my spout, feed it back into my mouth I was happily doing a rather splendid little mermaid impression, although I resemble Ursula over Ariel just without the tentacle's


From the beach the coral shows up as darker patches in the ocean, so we had a rough idea of where we needed to aim.  Just off the beach were lots of sea grasses, and plants that resembled honesty, with the same pearly luminous effect on them. Tiny little fishes darted in and out of them, they were opaque apart from a black line underneath them. Curious little things.  Suddenly we started to see tiny little bits of brightly coloured coral. It made my day, the fact that it was clearly thriving and self seeding, (I don't know if that's the correct terminology for it but it was the best i could find in my brain) filled me with great hope for its survival. The further we went out the thicker and denser it got. It resembled a pretty cottage garden, all different varieties growing together, intermingled colours all shapes and sizes. I was really chuffed to see loads of the bright blue starfish that Si had seen when snorkelling off the sandbars drop off. The blue shade of it was so vivid it looked like it had been painted or dyed.  I just wish I could find the right words in my stupid brain to adequately convey what I was so fortunate to see.  Tiny little fishes live in the coral garden, and seeing so many darting about beneath me had my eyes moving so fast, I began to think I might loose control of them!  Fortunately I didn’t and I was able to drink in the beauty that lay beneath the waves. 


The further out we went, as I said, the garden got denser and denser, and there were  little to no gaps in between the individual corals.  Little tiny ‘seedlings’ for want of a better word, were dotted around the seabed, and quite obviously thriving, the brilliant blue starfish were there in abundance too. We had gone quite a distance from the shore, and although I could still see the bottom so felt comfortable swimming along, the old body decided I should probably begin making my way back in to the shore. It took a little while, there was just too much to stop and look at. I knew that if I got into trouble, not only was Si there, but both Mel and John are strong swimmers, and John is not only an ex cop, but also a former surf life guard. If I got into any difficulties and Si needed a hand then the right people were most definitely with us. 


However, I am super woman and I made it back to shore by myself. Couldn’t stand up but that was a minor detail. After great discussion on the beach about the coral and marine life, we made our way back through the jungle to the reception area. There was a talk on Fijian History being given by Mr T, and both Si and I wanted to hear that. 


Mr T , like most Fijians is very quietly spoken, so we had to listen hard to what he was saying. I’m sure I might be going deaf, either that or my ears were still full of sea water! Anyway, the music that was playing in the reception was turned down and we were able to hear his words a little better. Fijian History goes back   3000  Years, and Fijian folk law says the first people actually came in boats from Tanzinia. Whole tribes came, and settled on Nadi. Their cannibalism can be traced back 2500 years and the most prolific cannibal – from both Fiji and the rest of the world – was Ratu Udre Udre, a chief who lived near Rakiraki in northern Viti Levu during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He actually holds the Guinness World Record of being Most Prolific Cannibal, and is believed to have eaten up to 999 people. He kept a stone for every person he consumed and there are more than 800 stones still decorating his grave site today. The exact number of people he ate is unknown, as some of the stones are missing.


In 1867 Pastor Thomas Baker went into the mountains to spread the word of God to Ratu Udre Udre he bloody well ate him. Not only did he eat the pastor and his 7 Fijian followers he also ate the the pastors shoes. Allegedly he found the soles a little tough, so didn’t eat them, and they are now in a museum in Suva preserved for prosperity. His reason for eating Thomas Baker? He touched Ratu Udre Udre's head. And that my friends is a big no no. I'm not sure it's an appropriate punishment for it, but we are talking a couple of years ago now! There are several villages on the mainland, and the one that Mr T’s family comes from is the oldest and most well known of all. It is known throughout the 333 islands of Fiji. The tribal elders aren’t selected, it is handed down through the generations.


When Mt T wanted to marry his wife, he gifted her family 7 whales teeth which are regarded as very rare and special in Fiji and 5kg of the Kava root to her family. Each whales tooth cost him $800 Fiji dollars. The kava is graded on how long it’s been it the ground. New Kava is $80 dollars per kg where a mature plant that has been in the ground for 7ysars is the best quality Kava and also the highest potency and can cost up to $180 per KG. They generally marry within their villages and the warriors are very protective of the women particularly if someone from another village is paying them attention. There are 4 main villages in the Fiji Mainland, and each tribe and tribal Elder has slightly different ways and traditions of doing things, the same goes for new Tribal Chiefs. They like to put their own stamp on things but don’t generally vary too much from the rituals of their elders.  Within the village everyone has a role to play. So for example if the chief dies, then every single person has a role to play. So Mr T is a fisherman, so he has to go and catch the fish to feed them. Someone else would have the role of cooking it, someone else would get the Kava.  It was fascinating, and I love that they still have their traditions and have managed to merge modern day living into it without loosing their values , identity and beliefs. Fijians believe in God, the word no doesn’t exist in their vocabulary and they believe that smiling is the best thing ever, which is something I can get on board with for sure. this link explains it all in a lot more detail than I can ever do!


After the talk, we went back to the Bure and I chilled on the hammock beneath the coconut palms, I wanted to rest up as there was a Lovo ceremony and feast tonight that we were interested in. 


I didn’t make the Lovo ceremony, but Si went and videoed it for me. They start by lighting a fire and heating up stones. Once the stones are hot they lay a layer of banana wood followed by a layer of palm wood over the stones and then  arrange the food over the top. Traditionally the food is cooked in palm leaves or banana leaves but it was wrapped it foil.  It is then covered with banana leaves and another layer of palm leaves. Plastic sacks are placed over the top of the food followed by a wet cloth. Over the wet cloth they shovel earth and as soon as no more smoke escapes from the mound of earth they will leave it to cook. It can take up to around 3 hours. The unwrapping ceremony followed a little later and then they could eat it. Si said it was really really good, super tasty and beautifully tender. There was so much to choose from he had to have 3 courses. I joined him later for the traditional dancing and singing. 


We’ve seen the Fijian people in action at the sevens and their singing is sensational, so we were both looking forward to the whole thing. The singing when it started was so powerful the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, so many voices, all in perfect harmony. After a few songs the ladies did a hand dance which was then followed by several dances from the men. Each one telling a different story. The final one was brilliant, and we were warned it was only a dance. They had their traditional clubs and weapons and the dance was both violent and magestic drawing everyone into the tale. The way they did it, was simply magnificent, the rest of the staff were singing the story as the warriors danced. It was a fantastic evening. 


We were having photos after the dancing, which were really cool, some way cooler than others, but the men in their grass skirts and wielding their clubs was quite a sight to behold.  


After everyone had had their photo opportunities, Mr T banged the drums signalling it was time for the  Kava ceremony. The root is placed in a metal pot and pounded into a very very fine powder. It takes a little while and the men were taking it in turns to pound it. Once they were happy with the consistency it was taken to a hand carved wooden bowl with legs on and placed in a muslin type cloth. Before it goes into the bowl there is a short ceremony over it of clapping and hand movements by the kava maker, who is selected from the village. Only men over 30 are given the honour, and while they are making the Kava they are not allowed to drink any for two months. Water is added to the bowl and then the powder is squeezed under the water by hand until it has all dissolved from the cloth. It resembles dishwater in colour as the powder resembles powdered clay in texture and colour.  When it is ready, traditionally half coconut shells are used to drink from, for our ceremony, we were served in small black bowls.  A small amount is low tide, a bit more is medium tide, and a full one they called a tsunami. 


Mr T explained it is not alcoholic but it is slightly narcotic, he also emphasised it is just a root with relaxing properties. After a few Tsunami, the speech slows and becomes very difficult… and then you fall asleep.  They were laughing saying that a tsunami and you’d miss breakfast, two tsunami you’d miss lunch, 3 tsunami and see you tomorrow. The root used in the ceremony was quite young and therefore not that potent which I suspect is safer for tourists. The Fijians are fed it from the womb and say that once baby is one year old it can climb up coconut trees thanks to the kava. Pregnant women are encouraged to drink it throughout their pregnancy. 


The gentleman in charge of the ceremony was very serious, and clearly the ceremony was important and a great honour to perform for him. In a ceremonial occasion, the Chief or Queen is always served first, and the men are sat behind the ceremony master for want of a better word.  Before you drink it you clap your hands once, and shout Bula, the drink goes down in one, then you clap three more times. In Fiji clapping is a form of appreciation and gratitude, the men clap cup handed and the women clap with their thumbs tucked in.  The Kava root is only grown in some places and the root we were using came from one of the staff members Island, it was his task to farm it, the whole thing was simply fascinating, and the Fijians also drink it together as a  family on daily basis in their homes. It’s considered rude to refuse it and if you accept it you must drink it all and not leave any. It tastes slightly earthy, and numbs the back of your throat and tongue. It continues to numb as it goes on its merry way through your system. Which I guess is a good thing. It’s a strange sensation, not dissimilar to that of an anaesthetic at the dentist, but nowhere near as intense. Maybe it’s more like clove oil actually, same thing numbs everything. Don’t know if it made me sleepy or if it affected my speech because as we know, quite often my worms don’t come out as they should! As for the sleeping, well I’m sleeping for Wales anyway so who knows! 


Before the ceremony finished the skies lit up with huge lightning flashes, it was stunning and the light show continued for around half an hour, it enhanced an already brilliant night. Rumbling back to the Bure the stars were twinkling brightly in the inky sky, so bright they could have been fake, Orion’s Belt was so clear and right above us. As we continued our way through the jungle  the palm leaf canopy thickened and blocked the sky from our view. The  whole day was a thoroughly enjoyable experience from start to finish,  Fiji and the Island people are even more beautiful than I could ever have imagined. 


Much Love

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